JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Reflects on Color

A PERSON OF COLOR

I am a survivor of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. I can not apologize or excuse enough about the horrific and incomprehensible way 918 wonderful people died. None of my reflections change that. But, my reflections do explain why so many of us joined Peoples Temple and even followed the dream of a Utopian community into the rainforest in Guyana.

One of the aspects I loved the most about being in Peoples Temple was that skin color became a non-issue. We soon became blind to color because we were brothers and sisters in one big family, and because our lives were intertwined at many points.

I attended my first Jonestown Anniversary Gathering at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland on the 20th anniversary. It was a homecoming to meet back up with my fellow survivors and dear friends. It was heartbreaking and deeply meaningful at the same time. An observer at that event later wrote about “a white woman who spoke.” I was curious who that person might be, since I had been there, and had seen everyone. It dawned on me that he was speaking of me. Somehow, when I was at a Peoples Temple event, I lost my skin tone as did the rest of my Peoples Temple family. It was too superficial to take note of. When I realized that world didn’t exist for me anymore, I was saddened.

My life continued, with me raising a family and teaching and writing, and becoming a Quaker.

Last week, at my Quaker Meeting, I took a photo with three other Quakers. It was a photo reflecting diverse skin color – from African to Hispanic. I can remember sitting in Meeting for Worship and thinking, “When people see this photo, they will think that all La Jolla Quakers are diverse and people of color.” I was including myself as a “person of color.” That is because my life, these days, is so full of people of all colors that I feel a part of that mix.

I have come full circle, it feels to me.

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